Ramy Youssef on His Priorities When Making Hulu's 'Ramy'

Courtesy of Hulu
'Ramy'

The multihyphenate, who appeared in his first HBO stand-up comedy special earlier this year, spoke to New Yorker writer Eric Lach about all things 'Ramy.'

There doesn't seem to be an end in sight for the ongoing war that's being waged among comedians over the legitimacy of things like cancel culture and political correctness, but for Ramy Youssef, "it's a dope time to be making things," he explained at the 2019 New Yorker Festival on Saturday night.

According to the 28-year-old comedian, this is due in part to what he sees as an "overwhelming desire for Hollywood to be super specific" — something that certainly applies to his semi-autobiographical series Ramy, which centers on a young Egyptian-American Muslim man living in New Jersey.

Youssef said that before Ramy landed at Hulu, he shopped the pilot around at seven or eight networks, eventually receiving offers from three. The show's concept wasn't met without pushback, though. Oftentimes, it would be compared to existing series like Master of None.

"I just remember being like, 'No, this is fully different. It's like a totally different thing. I don't eat bacon.'" Youssef said.

Today, Ramy continues to be likened to other shows that spotlight underserved communities, but part of what makes Youssef's series unique is his refusal to speak for anyone but himself. He touched on this in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, writing, "In the plethora of Muslim experiences, mine is just one, and I chose to wholly focus on that and that alone. I chose to make a show that isn't obsessed with checking boxes. A show that feels the only responsibility is to tell an honest story from a singular point of view. A show that is hopefully given room to grow — and therefore organically encompass other facets and storylines of what it might mean to be a Muslim in America."

Most importantly, Youssef said he wanted to make a show that didn't make fun of his faith, but rather one that made fun of himself within his faith.

"I don't really want to make a joke at the expense of any of the faiths because it's just kind of boring," he said. "I'll let Ricky Gervais do that."

Youssef explained that he also wanted to avoid wading too heavily into politics — "You lose no matter what, because even if you go in and you try to be political, and you're like, 'OK, cool, I'm gonna make my whole thing about the Muslim ban,' someone's gonna be like, 'Fuck you, you didn't talk about Syria'" — and as a result, the show rarely discusses terrorism; the exception being "Strawberries," which intertwines 9/11 with Youssef's character's introduction to masturbation.

"When you grow up in a family that doesn't talk about sex, other people are talking about it; you're trying to figure out where you stand," Youssef said. "That scope, it's just so frightening and devastating at that age, and I really wanted to craft this character who's going through something that you could probably watch for 30 minutes, but then kind of the worst thing happens. And then that changes his life ... when he was already struggling."

He didn't go into specifics, but Youssef added that some of the themes in "Strawberries" will be explored more in-depth throughout season two (which is slated for 2020). The first ended with Ramy in Egypt, and while shooting the final couple of episodes, Youssef said the reality of having his own show was "solidified" when a last-minute scene change resulted in him standing on the street his dad grew up on.

"So we're there, and I'm like, 'Oh shit. Yeah, this is what I'm supposed to be doing,'" Youssef said. "Like, my dad left here 35 years ago, and I'm on the corner that he grew up on shooting a TV show about jerking off."